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REACH OUT AND READ Docs bring books to young patients



Published: Sat, January 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



One Ohio doctor's idea is helping millions in the United States and abroad.

CLEVELAND (AP) -- A doctor's concern that a hospital waiting room had nothing for children to read has turned into a program that gives away millions of books each year.

Dr. Robert Needlman, a pediatrician at MetroHealth Medical Center, worked at a medical center in inner-city Boston when he noticed the lack of reading material.

Workers told him they had been bringing books to the office from home, but patients were stealing the books, so they gave up.

That got Dr. Needlman thinking.

He made phone calls and wrote letters asking for help. Boston's historic Old South Church came through with $6,000 -- enough money to buy hundreds of books.

He gave one book to every child who came for a checkup.

Reaching millions

Today, thousands of doctors and nurses at more than 2,100 clinics and hospitals throughout the United States are giving away books.

Doctors who have come to the United States to complete their medical training have taken the program around the world, to Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel and Lithuania.

The program Dr. Needlman started is called Reach Out and Read. Last year, it celebrated its 15th anniversary and gave away more than 3 million books. By 2009, it hopes to double that.

Volunteers and donations

Dr. Needlman, 45, who has been hired by Dr. Benjamin Spock's widow to update the classic "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care," heads the Cleveland chapter of Reach Out and Read.

Boy Scouts, college students and senior citizens volunteer to collect books, box them up, and deliver them to the doctors and nurses who hand them out.

Sometimes publishers donate books, adding to the millions Reach Out and Read buys every year. Not so long ago, DR. Needlman sat in his office surrounded by 700 copies of "Peter Rabbit."

"This happens all the time," he said of the donation that showed up one day.

Medical schools across the county that make sure students learning how to treat children understand the importance of reading.

"In a few years, they won't realize it wasn't always that way," Dr. Needlman said.

Shared vision

Needlman has had the help of thousands of people, including first lady Laura Bush and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who have promoted the program.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education gave Reach Out and Read $4 million to buy books. This year, it will expand that to $10 million.

"What Robert brought to this was his passion for children and his commitment to make a difference in their lives," says Barry Zuckerman, co-founder of Reach Out and Read.

Dr. Needlman took his idea to Zuckerman when he first noticed the bare waiting room back in 1989. Dr. Needlman had just finished his residency in pediatrics and was starting a three-year study of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at what is now Boston Medical Center.

Zuckerman was his mentor. Zuckerman listened, then reached into a file drawer and pulled out a plan for a nearly identical program. Zuckerman had tried to get it started years earlier, but couldn't get the money.




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